A Review of the Year, A Review of the Decade

During this time every year, people look back and reflect on everything that happened over the past year. This year it’s even more special because it is also the end of the decade. And a lot of times at this point in the year I find myself looking back at only the bad things that happened. Sure there were a lot of things that happened this year, because a year is a very long time. They weren’t all good, and they weren’t all bad. And when reflecting back on the year in someone’s life, it is important to remember both.

This year began with our two boy alpacas getting sick with the same menengial worm that killed our other boy back in 2015. It’s weird to think that this was almost a year ago now, and that we were lucky enough that with experience and the help of God that we were able to save them, and that they are still here today.

Also this year was the first polar vortex in a long time, and possibly my life time. It resulted in my college closing for two days last January for the first time since I think the Civil War. Also during my college year I finished my junior year of college, made new friends, got even more involved in the newspaper, which at the beginning of the decade I never would’ve thought that I would be doing. And now as I head into next year I am somehow already a senior in college and also am looking at possibly becoming a co-editor in chief in my final semester.

Another thing that happened this year was that our family got ducks after we learned that they help to eat the snails and slugs that cause the menengial worm that almost killed our boy alpacas. Unfortunately we didn’t know that we also had hawks and that hawks can get ducks. So while we got the ducks in March, we lost all four of them by the beginning of December. We will be getting more next year when they return to Tractor Supply, and also after we figure out a better way to protect them from the hawks.

And now to the dairy farming part. Out of my special show cow heard I have only had one successful calf born this year, Kit, who is the granddaughter of my Katy. Since then a few have had bull calves, and others have had miscarriages. In October I thought we got lucky and we finally had another heifer calf, Jamey, but being born a week and a half early there was most likely something wrong inside that we couldn’t see. After about eight days she got bloated like calves sometimes do, but this time, for the first time that I’ve experienced, we couldn’t save her. It was heartbreaking.

Then came Charlie. She was born in July during my second to last year showing cows at the fair. She was a Milking Shorthorn, one of the three that we had in our barn. Just recently she became old enough to breed. Only when the vet came to check, he told us that she could never be bred and that she was likely to become dangerous. I had already seen weird and slightly spastic behavior from her, but I didn’t want to believe it. Only there was nothing to be done, and we had to get rid of her. This was only a few weeks before finals. Every time I lose a cow it’s different, and it hurts in a whole new, unique way that never completely goes away. I especially learned that after this year.

This year I learned what it was like to hold more responsibilities on the farm when my dad was diagnosed with cellulitis and congestive heart failure. Just two weeks ago he had to spend the night in the hospital after getting a defibrillator put in. I spent two nights home alone, watching and taking care of all of our animals. It was probably the two most stressful nights in my life. And then just last week my grandpa dislocated his hip for the third time in his life. We got lucky that it was the week after my dad’s surgery and not the week of. But this adds more work and stress to us on the farm, which we accept because we have to and because there’s no way we are going to let grandpa come back out to the barn for a while.

Other small things that happened include; I continued to practice my writing skills and am well on my way to writing my first novel, and also a cow stepped on my toe and my toenail fell off, which is not something I realized could happen until this year.

Altogether it is much easier to focus on the bad instead of the good when so many bad things happen in a year. But looking at the decade I see so many other good things that have happened. I grew up, and became the person I want to be. I got into dairy farming and got my own cows. I learned how to be responsible and love something so much more than I could ever love myself. I learned what it was like to lose, and also to win, both at the fair and in life in general. But even more than all that I learned how important it was to live this life. I learned what it was like to become an advocate for agriculture. I learned what it was like to have someone disagree with your lifestyle, even when you know that what you do is right. Dairy farming is important, in so many different ways. More than anything it, my cows, and all the rest of my animals made me who I am today. And no matter what comes in the next year, or the next decade, I know that I will still be found out in the barn among my cows and my animals, where I was always meant to be.

Decisions

One of the things that I hear so often that always gets me going on social media is that us dairy farmers don’t care about our cows, and its all only for the money. That is the number one thing that as soon as I see someone say that in a comment, I know for a fact that I am dealing with someone who actually has no idea what it’s like living this life.

I’ve probably said this a million times before, but if we really were only in it for the profit then why exactly do I find myself constantly curled up in a corner sobbing when things go wrong. As a dairy farmer, some days it feels like my cows are the only ones that understand me, and I’ve even referred to them as my best friends from time to time. And I know even to other dairy farmers that sounds ridiculous, but I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true.

I do know that there are things that happen on a dairy farm that most likely look weird to people who don’t live and understand the life, that are all done to help benefit the cow, not the farmer. Most likely that’s why all the stigma around dairy farming started in the first place, one confused person looking and not understanding what was actually happening.

Another important thing that I constantly stress is that not all animals are the same, and animals are not humans. Animals are so much better than humans, but they also have different anatomies, and different ways of having a healthy and happy life. One example would be that most of the time people will take their kids to get a flu shot during flu season. Cows don’t need flu shots, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of another animal getting one either. But even more important than that, is I’ve seen people compare cows or calves to things like puppies. It doesn’t work to compare two completely different species and say that they are exactly the same. Dogs and cows need completely different things to be healthy and cared for. Would you give your dog cat food?

Where am I going with all of this you may ask? Well as I grow older and I find myself more involved with the goings on on the farm, lately I find things get harder. Just last month I lost a calf after only eight days of life, and there wasn’t anything I could do. And now, I find myself faced with a decision about one of my heifers.

The other day the vet came to the farm to do pregnancy checks, to see who all was officially pregnant or not. Every one of my cows who were supposed to be were, except for one, Charlie.

For constant followers of my blog, this name might seem familiar. I’ve talked about her a few times, especially during the blog posts from my last year at the fair when she was my Reserve Grand Champion Milking Shorthorn, just like her mother. Well recently her mother became unable to have more calves due to prolapse. Prolapse is a weird thing, and sometimes it can kill a cow, but other times it might even fade with time. But if we had bred her again, with her next calf she would have bled out internally. So we were relying on her daughters, Rey and Charlie, to keep bringing Milking Shorthorn calves to our farm.

Well the vet came, and before he even checked her, he said that she was dangerous and that we should get rid of her before she hurts someone. They had to have a halter on her to even be able to do the check. And then after the check the vet said she most likely will not breed ever, which is not good in humans and is definitely not good in dairy cows.

And so now I find myself stuck with a decision. When I was younger, things like this, though this hasn’t happened to me yet, but when bad things happen it was never down to me. It always happened to quickly or it had to happen or the cow would die. And now I’m older, and I make my own decisions. But I don’t want to have to make this one.

I’m in college, and the only thing I want to really be worrying about right now is my finals coming in two weeks. But I find myself having to sit here and write this out on the first day of Thanksgiving break before even trying to work on school stuff, because it’s all I can think about. And I don’t want to have to be thinking about it.

If dairy farmers were only in it for the profit, this decision would be a no brainer. She’s never going to give milk, so out the door she goes. Except that’s not how any of this works. Because we do care, we care a whole awful lot. And I know the vet said she was dangerous, and that she has the possibility of hurting someone. And I know we’re already struggling, just because dairy farms don’t bring in that much money in the first place, and we have more medical bills and stuff now because of what happened to my dad a few months ago. I know what the decision will most likely be, and will honestly probably have to be. But I don’t want to have to face it, and I don’t want to have to do it. Because I am a dairy farmer, and like it or not, or understand it or me or not, I and every other farmer like me, we care about our cows.

The Hardest Part

Farming has been a part of my life for almost half of it by now. I can’t count the numerous hours I have spent among the dairy cows in the barn taking care of them, or the countless times I have agvocated on social media or on this blog. I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything different. It’s definitely not the only thing that I do, or will do with my life when I graduate college, but I can’t imagine it ever not being a part of my life anymore. Even with the bad days and the hard times, it is always still worth it, for the cows much more than for me.

But with all that, comes like I just mentioned, the hard times. The hardest part about farming is the days when there’s nothing more that can be done. It’s the days when something comes out of the blue that couldn’t be seen or guessed, and suddenly the worst happens. It’s happened plenty of times over the years, and the last time was just a few days ago.

About six years ago now I experienced my first cow dying. It was on Halloween, 2013, and it was a Jersey, along with being my first Jersey. If you’ve been following my blog or you know me, you definitely know this already. Recently another one of my cows who is a half Holstein, half Jersey was due to have her calf. She had a great, happy, bouncy Jersey a week and a half earlier than she was supposed to. For the first day I was nervous, because normally that early leads to a bunch of problems in either the mom or the calf. But for the first few days, everything was completely fine. Which is probably why this hurts so much.

Her name was Jamey. I loved her the moment I met her a few days after she was born. There was no reason to believe that anything was wrong or would’ve been wrong by the end of the week. She was just a normal, bouncy calf. Impressively she even drank her milk perfectly, and drank a full bottle. We don’t know and once again like so many times before will probably never know for sure, but that right there could’ve been the problem.

Maybe it was my fault. Maybe it was someone else’s fault. Maybe it was nobody’s fault. It was more likely nobody’s fault, but I can’t help but feel like it was mine. I always do a little bit.

Something calves can get some time is bloat. I don’t know if that’s the correct term for it, or if it’s supposed to be they got bloated or what it is exactly. But either way when calves get bloated, something that is done is to give them a bit of Dawn dish soap, and walk them around in the barn. It’s happened to many of our calves before, there was no reason to think it would’ve been anything different. Maybe it was because she was a week and a half early. It was most likely that, and because something inside was probably not formed correctly or something along those lines. Something we could never have predicted or known about until it was too late.

As you might have been able to guess by now, Jamey got bloated. Only we didn’t catch it in time, or because of being a week and a half early there was a bigger problem and we didn’t know. That’s the worst part about all of this, is we didn’t know.

Jamey didn’t make it. Eight days of finally having something happy involving a Jersey in October after six years, and now it’s worse.

This is the hardest part about being a dairy farmer. I always know that someone really doesn’t know what it’s like to be a dairy farmer when they try to tell me that farmers only care about profit, and they don’t actually give a crap about the cows themselves. Oh how wrong that statement is.

I only knew Jamey for eight days, and it still feels like my heart has ripped from my chest. Three days later and I can still hardly write this without crying or wanting to cry. Things like this should never happen, and yet things like this are so unexpected and unable to be caught or prepared for that it doesn’t help to say that. The worst lesson to learn about farming is the terror at any cow getting sick, and the heartbreak when they’re gone. More than that, farmers more than anyone really know what it means to have to learn to move on. And even after an eight day old calf comes into your life and passes, that’s still one of the hardest things to do.

Time Ticks On

I’ve been finding myself thinking a lot about the passage of time lately. Especially around this time of the year I find myself looking back at everything that has happened in my life. Specifically yesterday I was thinking about how by the end of next month it’ll have been six years since the worst day of my entire life. Other random times I’ll find myself thinking about how old some of my first cows are getting, and about how much we’ve been through together.

Today specifically I find myself thinking about all that, plus one thing more. One year ago today I went home from college for the weekend and heard the news that my ag teacher, the one who throughout all of high school I referred to as my favorite teacher, was arrested for possession of child pornography. A year ago I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t know how to handle it. Today I find myself a lot different.

A year ago I was still trying to defend him, to wrap my head around it. Here was this gentle, kind man that I had known for what seemed like my whole life. He wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t a monster. So many other people were so quick to jump up and say he was disgusting and why can’t I just see that. And I know I couldn’t have been the only one feeling that way.

Today I feel different. Today it has sadly become a fact of life. I couldn’t stop crying for days after that last year. But today my feelings are different. I no longer cry about it. Honestly today I feel a mix of things. I feel anger, angry at him a little bit, but more so at the world and whatever could’ve happened in his life that I wasn’t a part of after I graduated to make him decide that he needed to do this. But mostly I feel pity. Pity that something did in fact happen, and that whatever happened it made him feel that he needed to turn to this. I don’t know if I forgive him or not, because he didn’t actually do anything to me, so it feels weird to think that I actually have to forgive him for anything. Except what he did, it affected everyone he knew. When a person who is so well liked and respected does something like that, it affects the whole community, whether they realize it or not.

Another thing that I have been thinking about lately is my cows. Specifically my older ones, and during this time of year I’m always thinking about one in particular, and one night in particular. October 30, 2013. I was fourteen years old. I was a child, still learning how to be a decent person and how to speak up and defend myself. I had just recently gotten my cows, around a year before to be exact, and they were teaching me things that I could never have noticed at the time. Well that night was the night that I always say I grew up, and I became an adult before I needed to or was expected to.

No one expected it to happen. Hazelnut was my first Jersey. She was nine months old, she was meant to live for many years later. Until suddenly she wasn’t.

The one thing I’ve learned from farming is to always be ready for anything. Expect the unexpected. Except sometimes there’s no way to expect or prepare for something like this.

The last time I saw Hazelnut she was a bloated mess laying on the floor. That sounds disgusting, but that’s the only way I can describe it. And even now I can still picture her so clearly in my mind on that last day that it’s even caused me to have a panic attack in the middle of a college classroom one time last year. Even now I find myself thinking about it and shaking a little bit.

I never know how to explain myself to my friends here at college. They all know how much I love my cows, and what they mean to me. But every year I find myself saying how much I hate Halloween, and having to just say it’s for personal reasons because I don’t know how to explain it, and because honestly sometimes I think I might start sobbing still when I try to explain it.

I’ve been thinking about this, because as it is September Halloween is on it’s way. A lot of my friends are all excited for “spooky season” but I can’t get on that boat anymore. It might’ve happened on the 30th, but she died the next morning, Halloween morning. And so I hate Halloween, and probably will for the rest of my life.

This year it’ll have been six years since that terrible night. If it hadn’t happened, and it really shouldn’t have happened, she would’ve been six years old this upcoming February. I can’t even imagine that. In my head she will always be the little nine month old Jersey, taken way too soon.

I can’t help but think of this and everything else I’ve been through when I hear people saying that dairy farming is wrong or bad in any way. It’s accidents like this that make people more likely to think that, but what a lot of people don’t get is how dangerous this job actually is. They don’t get that there are some things that just can’t be prepared for. Farmers are not around their cows every single moment, and sometimes things happen in those moments. And then people say well it’s just for profit, and farmers don’t give a crap if a cow dies, except that they’re sad that they lost money. This has never been about money. And if you don’t believe me, well you must not have been reading this blog post very carefully.

Things happen, and sometimes those things serve to define who you are as a person. Life is hard, and sometimes it’s extremely hard. Sometimes you’re left to question how you move on, and what could possibly come next. But those things that happen, I fully believe it is God sending a message, or making you stronger. The hardest moments in life are the things that you come out of on the other side as a stronger, wiser, and more beautiful person than you were before.

I don’t know who I would be today if I didn’t farm and I didn’t write. Those are the two things that I feel that I was always meant to do, no matter how many people tried to tell me not to. I say this all the time, but I mean it. If it wasn’t for my cows I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And if I didn’t write, I don’t know if I actually would’ve made it through some of the things that I’ve been through. If it wasn’t for those two things, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I might not even be in college, or if I was, it wouldn’t be studying creative writing.

But after everything, the number one thing I’ve learned is that time ticks on. And sometimes things just hurt, and they hurt so much that at the time you can’t help but think that there’s absolutely no way you could ever get through this. And yet time ticks on. And sometimes the best and only thing you can do is to tick on right along with it.

For the love of a cow

Sometimes I feel that people who don’t grow up on dairy farms don’t really understand me. I often find myself trying to explain my life to them, and I’m not always sure how. Even though I am a writer, I cannot always find the words. The only way I can ever really think to explain it is that my cows are my life, they mean everything to me, and everything I do I do because I love them. That in itself is always why when I hear people say what I do is cruel or inhuman I feel the need to speak up and say no. I always tell them when this happens that the easiest way to learn the truth is to find an actual local farmer and ask if you can visit the farm. I’m not sure if all farmers feel the same way as I do, in fact I’m sure there are some out there that don’t, but I do know most farmers are motivated by love for the animals they care for.

Because all farmers do is actually care for their cows, not harm them. Cows became domesticated millions of years ago; like a cat or a dog that lives in the house they would not be able to survive on their own. Farmers are out there sometimes over twelve hours a day or more to make sure the cows are safe, healthy and happy. Every day is devoted to the cows. Not that there aren’t some bad days. I can’t even count the number of times I have left the barn just mentally or physically exhausted and wanting to be home or crying because something didn’t go right or because a cow accidentally hurt me in some way. I’ve even heard my dad on his worst days saying he doesn’t know why he keeps doing this. I never tell him I know the exact reason why; it’s for the love of the cows.

Now I have never had a boyfriend. I have never seen the need. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it’s like to be in love. I’ve just had yet to experience it with a human that is not a friend or part of my family . But I know what it is to love a cow more than anything else, including myself. I’ve been showing cows and working on the farm for almost a third of my life. I know what it’s like to feel the ups and downs of life, especially since there’s more of that on a dairy farm than probably anywhere else in the world. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve had where the barn was my only sanctuary, and I felt like the cows were the only ones that understood me. And I can’t tell you how much it hurt to see any of them suffer even if they weren’t my own special show cow, because there are no words to describe that. The worst days of my life have often included the words “there’s nothing more that can be done.” And there are no words to describe how much those words can rip your heart out.

Throughout my life I have often found my best friends in my cows. I understand that people who don’t know me, and who’ve never lived or will never live the life I do will never understand that. And I feel sorry for them, because they will never know this love that I do. Maybe someday I will be like my dad, with days where I question why I keep on doing what I do. But then again maybe not, because I know the answer to that question is love. Everything I do is done for love, the love of a cow.